On Wednesday 1st February 2023 we welcome Richard Tanner from Rugby to the Cathedral for our next organ recital of 2023. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover about his own Slovenian pipe organ, appearing on BBC Christmas specials, and playing some Weelkes on the Wingfield Organ.
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
As a 5 year old I loved singing hymns in church, so nagged my parents to sing in a choir. Eventually this led to auditioning for the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral. At St Paul’s I loved the sound of the organ and was inspired by John Scott, Christopher Dearnley, Barry Rose, Simon Lole, Roger Sayer and Andrew Lucas, regularly having the opportunity to turn pages for them after services. I persuaded John Scott to give me my first organ lesson and the rest is history!
After a music scholarship at Radley College where I studied organ with Robert Gower, I spent a year at The Royal Academy of Music studying the organ with David Sanger and Church music with Patrick Russill, followed by an organ scholarship at Exeter College, Oxford where I was responsible for running a choir of boys’ voices.
Next was an organ scholarship at St Alban’s Cathedral where I was particularly inspired by the way Barry Rose ran a boys’ choir without a choir school. As a result, my next two posts utilised this experience, as Director of Music at All Saints’ Northampton and Blackburn Cathedral. After 13 fruitful and happy years in Lancashire, I moved to London, working for Trinity Laban Conservatoire as Director of Chapel Music at The Old Royal Naval College where I was lucky to direct a stunning choir of conservatoire students. Since 2012 I have been Director of Music at Rugby School which has brought many exciting opportunities, not least the chance to work with many talented teenage musicians, including former choristers from a range of Cathedrals and College Chapels, and to start a full choral foundation with boy and girl choristers singing six evensongs a week. Along the way I have also worked as a record producer on over 50 CDs, directed choral courses in USA and Sweden, worked extensively for the BBC and conducted orchestras from the Malta Philharmonic to the BBC Philharmonic.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
A combination of popular favourites, but also some well-known tunes in a slightly unfamiliar setting.
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
My main enjoyment comes from the ability to enhance worship and I’m very fortunate to regularly play the organ for services at London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields. I also love the broad range of organ solo repertoire but get the greatest pleasure out of playing Bach’s organ music on my own pipe organ which I commissioned in 2007 from Skrabl, the Slovenian organ builder.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
All the pieces in the programme have elements that are attractive to me and some resonate with particular periods in my life. I don’t have any one favourite.
This recital season we are celebrating music written by female composers. Which piece(s) have you selected, and why did you choose it / them?
Prelude on an Old Folk Tune encompasses my recital theme of familiar tunes but also builds on a growing relationship I am forming with Amy Beach and her works. I’ve recently explored some of her solo songs as a piano accompanist and we have sung some charming choral pieces by her at Rugby.
Are you looking forward to playing the Wingfield Organ, and what will it bring to your set / the piece you’re playing on it?
I have known about this organ for over twenty years and I’ve always wanted to try it. So I’m delighted to finally have a chance to play some Weelkes on the Wingfield Organ. I’m sure that it will provide variety of colour and new character to my programme as well as providing me with new insights into how to approach the music.
You’ve done a lot of work with the BBC over your career; what have been your highlights?
There have been so many highlights. Many originate from my time as a chorister, such as appearances on Christmas specials for Captain Beaky, Val Doonican and Russell Harty. Working of Radio 4 Daily Service for over twenty years as a regular Director of Music and Organist was particularly special as I made so many dear friends and I love the concise format of the act of worship. Conducting Bach’s Mass in B minor with the period instrumental ensemble ‘Canzona’, the BBC Daily Service Singers and the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields for Ascension Day was amazing. I always enjoy working on Choral Evensong, Sunday Worship and Songs of Praise.
I’ve been proud of my two choristers who have won the BBC Young Chorister of the Year Competition. However, my most recent experience, in December 2022, takes some beating as I was lucky enough to conduct a three-hour recording session with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. The level of musicianship was extraordinary, but the players were also incredibly kind and welcoming to me, so I think it will always be a lifetime highlight.
Rugby School student Naomi Simon won the 2022 BBC Young Chorister of the Year – what was that moment like?
It was a moment of great pride and joy, particularly as the other finalists were so amazing too. Naomi, who hails from Yorkshire, is an incredibly talented and versatile performer. It was the second time that a Rugby School student has won, and I was equally proud of Ischia Gooda when she won back in 2017. Ischia, who is now a choral scholar at the Queen’s College in Oxford, was a great source of inspiration to Naomi when she arrived at Rugby, and I know that she is also thrilled by Naomi’s success!
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
I hope that it will provide an enjoyable and approachable exploration of different organ traditions and sound worlds for the audience.
You can join us on Wednesday 1st February at 1pm for Richard Tanner’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about Richard on Twitter and his website, and you can discover more on the Rugby School on their website, Facebook, or on Instagram.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page